Arne Duncan and the Fairy Tale of Educational Reform
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Hansel and Gretel fell for the witch’s promise. Don’t fall for Duncan’s and Obama’s promise on less testing. Don’t think the US Department of Education and NGOs will lessen their involvement in state educational development and delivery. Duncan tells PBS his plans for public school students. It’s just more of the same top down centralized control of education and continued meddling of the USDOEd.
Who will decide just how much testing is appropriate and what testing should be used? Think it’s your state agency or school district? Think again:
GWEN IFILL: Well, it’s not just Washington. A lot of the movement to opt out of these tests started in local school districts and around the country with parents, with teachers.
How much of that will be satisfied by Washington saying do less?
ARNE DUNCAN: Well, I think there are two sides of this coin, folks who think we just need to do more and more testing. I think that is wrong. Folks who think we shouldn’t do any assessments, that’s equally wrong.
And there is a commonsense middle ground here. This is very much a civil rights issue. Historically in this nation, we swept under the rug the horrific disparities in outcomes, the horrific achievement gap between black and white students and Latino and white students and poor students and wealthier students. Too much testing is bad. Walking away from assessment is equally bad.
But let’s find the commonsense middle ground. I think that’s what we’re all striving to do and to do together.
GWEN IFILL: It doesn’t sound like you have figured out where that sweet spot is, Mr. Casserly.
MICHAEL CASSERLY: No, we really haven’t.
And part of our goal here was just to gather some data on how much testing was actually done. We haven’t figured out the right balance yet. We did announce today that the Council of Great City Schools, in coordination with Council of Chief State School Officers, would form a commission to start looking at exactly what the right balance would be, what would models and options for school districts be that would present a much more rational and intelligent assessment system.
Who is Mr. Casserly? Is he a state commissioner making assessment decisions for his particular state? The joke’s on those who think Duncan’s and Obama’s remarks actually meant states could control their educational decisions again. Mr. Casserly is with the Council of Great City Schools, a NGO whose current mission is to support the implementation Common Core State Standards:
More from the PBS interview:
GWEN IFILL: How do you measure effectiveness? That’s the other piece of this. It’s one thing to have quality. It’s another thing to have quantity.
But then you have to be able to measure that learning has actually approved. And that’s been the defense which testers have used, which is we need to have that basic line.
ARNE DUNCAN: I think the world is changing and it’s really important.
Historically, Gwen, as you know, you had 50 different states doing 50 different tests, which you couldn’t compare and frankly cost a heck of a lot more money because everyone was doing their own thing. And what you now have, again, thanks to Mike’s leadership and the state chief officers and others’ leadership, governors’ leadership, is you have more and more states starting to work together.
And so the real key in all this, Gwen, is how do we accelerate the pace of change? Who is doing a fantastic job with English-language learners? Who is doing a great job in rural communities, or in inner-city communities, or in Native American reservations and how do we replicate and share what is working and scale those best practices?
A previous MEW post describes who the “we” is making the educational decisions for states and local school districts. It mimics Duncan’s description of role of choice architect by Melinda Gates:
What Gwen Ifill doesn’t ask is how the Federal Government and NGOs have the authority to make these decisions for states and local school districts. More and more states aren’t starting to work together, they are under the sticks and carrots version of government: if you want money, you’ll sign on the dotted line of mandated behavior/assessments and/or waivers to be released from the mandates when they are shown to be unwieldy and impossible. Look at NCLB. Was it ever possible that 100% of children would be proficient by 2014? From a description of the luring of Handel and Gretel into the witch’s house:
After days of wandering, they follow a beautiful white bird to a clearing in the woods, where they discover a large cottage built of gingerbread and cakes with window panes of clear sugar. Hungry and tired, the children begin to eat the rooftop of the candy house, when the door opens. A hideous old hag emerges and lures them inside with the promise of soft beds and delicious food.
Those promises of soft beds and delicious food sound like the promises we’ve heard since 2009 about the educational nirvana of NCLB, Race to the Top, and Common Core State Standards Initiative. As in the fable of Hansel and Gretel, centralized educational reform is a fairy tale supposedly designed to create the utopia where no child is left behind and workers are seamlessly supplied to the global economy. The announcement of less testing from this administration cannot be categorized as a departure from the mandates in the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Education reform isn’t going to be radically different. The USDOEd set the rules and it enforces the rules while the states keep signing on the dotted line of waivers/mandates. Hansel and Gretel were lured by promises that almost led them to their deaths. States fell for the carrots and sticks game assuring the death of state educational direction/delivery.
There is an important aspect of the educational promise of soft beds and delicious foods not mentioned in the PBS interview. It is that Duncan, Obama, Casserly and other NGOs don’t tell you is that they decide what constitutes soft and delicious. In reality and not fairy tale land, their reforms are predicated on illogical promises belonging in the fantasy section in the annals of educational history.